As governments around the world, including the UAE, are working extensively to replace high energy bulbs with LED lights, new psychiatric studies that warn against the negative effects of the energy-saving light have been raising eyebrows.

Earlier this year, a group of psychiatrists published a paper in the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, warning of the potential effects of LED lighting on mental illness.

It raised concerns about the influence of blue light, emitted by LED bulbs and digital gadgets, on sleep, and other circadian-mediated symptoms.



Although studies show that exposure to blue light inhibits melatonin secretion, which disrupts sleep and can affect quality of life, physical and mental health and susceptibility to illness, local experts confirmed the impact depends on the intensity and duration of light exposure. 

Dr Carl-Johan Ramberg, consultant neurologist at German Neuroscience Centre in Dubai, confirmed that the use of light treatment may induce mania in people with bipolar disorder. Since light reduces melatonin, the hormone that puts humans to sleep, adolescents with sleep disorders may be impacted negatively by the exposure to blue light and digital devices.

"It is generally recommended to avoid exposure to strong light (like LED lights and bright screens) two to three hours before going to sleep."

Studies show that 15,000 lux of light is needed to suppress melatonin with eyes closed. The brightness of a computer screen (assume a computer screen of 40x30cm and a viewing distance of 0.6m) or TV is approximately 67-167 lux. The brightness of light fixtures in an office environment is usually approximately 500 lux.

Our smartphone screen generates 7,000-8,000k range of light, more than the colour temperature of the daylight, overcast sky that emits 6,500k.

Ramberg confirmed that the impact of LED lights depends on the intensity and wavelengths of the exposure. The higher the intensity of the light, the greater the impact it has on the human body and circadian cycle.

"The highest amount of melatonin is released around 5am, making you the most tired. The more light you expose the body to closer to this time of the day, the more likely you'll sense an impact. If you get strong light exposure late in the evening, it will make it difficult to fall asleep. If you get it in the morning, it will make it easier to wake up," said Ramberg.

Companies and governments have been investing heavily in LED lamps in a bid to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment. It makes a difference given that cities across the world produce over 60 per cent of all carbon emissions and are responsible for consuming 78 per cent of all energy globally.

The recent noteworthy initiative in this regard is by Signify (formerly called Phillips Lighting), where the company has developed LED lamps in a research partnership with the Dubai Municipality.

Ahmed Saeed Al Badwawi, director of the applied sustainability and renewable energy department at the Dubai Municipality (DM), said the commercial sector is more aware about LED lighting applications. The municipality will launch awareness campaigns to educate residents on the importance of changing their home lights to energy-saving bulbs.

Although Dubai Lamps has been widely available in the markets, the civic body reported lower demand among residents. "With all sectors across the country shifting to LED lights, we need to get people on board, especially when the country is now talking about sustainability," said Al Badwawi.

In a research partnership with the Dubai Municipality, Signify (formerly called Phillips Lighting), has developed LED lamps that was named Dubai Lamps.

The company supplied two million 'Dubai Lamps' across the city in 2017, covering the residential and commercial sectors like hotels, mosques and hospitals. This number is estimated to reach 10 million lamps by 2021, which signifies the expansion of LED lamp market across the country.

Now, Dubai has made it mandatory for new buildings under construction to use Dubai Lamp, which reduces the electricity consumption by 90 per cent and has a longer lifespan that hits 10 years. Other companies exploiting the opportunities in the LED lamp market include GE, Cree, Samsung, Osram, etc.

A spokesperson at Signify said that the idea that LED lamps emit dangerous levels of blue light has been a misunderstanding. "LED lamps are available in all colour temperatures, from warm white to cool, and are safe to use for the purpose for which they were designed. They do not produce more blue light than other types of lamps of the same colour temperature," the spokesperson said.

It is confirmed that Dubai Lamps, manufactured by Signify for use in street lights, residential and commercial sectors in the city, follow the global and regional standards for design and production.

Signify spokespeople added what matters is the intensity of light at night. The disruptive effect of blue light comes with the amount of light, timing and duration of light exposure.

According to research, a 4,000K of light (equivalent to the moonlight) shouldn't impact sleep unless continuously stared at. Research further shows that you need to stare straight into the light of over 30 lux for an hour for measurable shift in hormone. Therefore, there should be no worries regarding blue light from LED street lighting on sleep disruptions, especially if designed and applied properly.

 "Light levels produced by LED street lighting are too low to affect the hormone levels governing our sleep behaviour. LED lighting products used in homes, offices, stores and schools do not produce intense and harmful levels of blue light either," the spokesperson said.

The UAE Ministry of Infrastructure Development has started replacing the traditional lights on all federal roads of the country with power-saving LED lamps.

The project is to be carried out in two phases to cover the 710km federal roads in the UAE, with over 26,300 traditional lamps, consuming 46 megawatts per year, to be replaced in the first stage of the promising scheme spanning 290km. The second phase will see up to 4,510 high bay LED lights that consume only 12.3MW installed over 210km.

>When having bright (LED) light source, like computer screens, give your eyes a break. Use the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.

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>Avoid exposure to strong light (like LED lights and bright screens) two to three hours before going to sleep.

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